On August 17, 2022, the Board of Forestry (BOF) approved minor revisions to the State Minimum Fire Safe Regulations (FSR), which govern all new development in the State Responsibility Area (SRA) as well as the Very High Fire Hazard Severity Zone (VHFHSz) in the Local Responsibility Area (LRA).

The revised regulations retain the current road regulations in force at this time, which include a minimum of 20 ft wide roads for all 2-way roads and limits on dead-end roads (from 800 ft to 1 mile) depending on the smallest parcel served. Public roads must also meet the minimum FSR for any new development to occur.

To assist counties, the BOF will work with CalFire leadership on training for CalFire employees and local jurisdictions on the correct implementation of the FSR. Such training will benefit the County in streamlining its development approval processes, including correctly applying the FSR to existing roads both within and outside a parcel or development perimeter and preventing abuse of exceptions that would undermine the intent of the FSR. These regulations continue to apply to all new or expanded development but do not require road upgrades for existing development

What is important about this decision?

Although two years ago it appeared that the BOF would pass these FSR, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), of which Napa County is a member, objected, saying it would limit development. RCRC and developers lobbied to loosen prevailing standards. Overwhelming support for tougher standards for roads and development in fire hazard zone areas came from firefighters as well as California Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenbelt Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRSC), State Alliance for Firesafe Road Regulations (SAFRR), Growers and Vintners for Responsible Agriculture, and Napa Vision 2050.

The fight is not over. Deborah Eppstein of SAFRR states, “This is great news, but the battle is not over by any means. Counties still need to enforce these regulations! It’s great that BOF is working on preparing a statewide training program, but that likely will not be available until next year. So meanwhile, we all need to work with our respective counties to have these regulations properly enforced, including to not abuse the use and intent of the exception process.”

Unfortunately, Napa County and our Board of Supervisors were on the wrong side of this serious safety issue. Will a new CEO and two new supervisors make a difference in our pro-development mentality? Fortunately, the BOF and the California Attorney General are taking fire safety very seriously. Our hope lies in the BOF’s statewide training program on enforcement.

Is there something we can do?

The loophole is the description of “same practical effect” of exceptions and the built-in deference to the local jurisdictions which are deemed more knowledgeable of the situation. This is where locals lose out to developers. You can write to the BOF here to express your concern.

Have questions about the regulations?
Take a look at this linked document for the details.